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Professor calls Ta'Kiya Young fatal shooting unjustified, says officer created danger for himself

Ta'Kiya Young was shot and killed by Blendon Township Police after she allegedly shoplifted alcohol from the Sunbury Plaza Kroger and attempted to flee the scene on August 24, 2023. She was 21 years old and pregnant at the time.
Courtesy of the family of Ta'Kiya Young
Ta'Kiya Young was shot and killed by Blendon Township Police after she allegedly shoplifted alcohol from the Sunbury Plaza Kroger and attempted to flee the scene on August 24, 2023. She was 21 years old and pregnant at the time.

A prominent use-of-force expert said the Blendon Township Police officer who shot and killed Ta'Kiya Young in late August had no justification and that he created the danger himself.

Bowling Green State University criminal justice professor Philip Stinson said the shooting was not justified. Stinson said he believes from the video evidence that the unidentified officer was violating both the law and the police department's use of force policy and could possibly face charges and be fired for his actions.

"In order for an officer to be legally justified in using deadly force, the officer has to have a reasonable apprehension of death or serious bodily injury being imposed against the officer or someone else here. That simply wasn't the case," Stinson said.

Stinson's research includes police crime, police integrity, quantitative content analyses, program evaluation, historical analyses/case studies of crime and trials. He works with the BGSU Police Integrity Research Group to study the phenomenon of police crime, or crime committed by sworn law enforcement officers.

On Aug. 24, two Blendon Township police officers were told by a Kroger employee that Young had allegedly stolen bottles of alcohol from the Sunbury Plaza store. Young denied she stole anything and refused to comply with the officers demanding she get out of her car.

One officer placed himself in front of her car and pulled out his gun. Before she was shot, Young tried to pull away in her vehicle which pushed the officer in front of her car.

Young was shot in the chest and later died at St. Ann's Hospital. She was about 6 months pregnant and due to give birth in November.

Stinson criticized the officer's decision to step in front of the car in the first place.

"Clearly he's trying to put himself in front of the car to discourage the driver from moving forward with the car. But that's a very dangerous proposition to put yourself in harm's way. So I think that that was a tactical error. I think it violated agency policy and it certainly led to the officer creating danger, the officer created exigency that resulted in the officer discharging his firearm" Stinson said.

Stinson said when seeing the situation from Young's perspective, she was obviously scared. He said while she did disobey the officer's commands, this should not have led to her death.

"This is a tragic case. She should not have lost her life. And, you know, at best, this was a shoplifting case. It should not resulted in this outcome," he said.

Stinson called the legal justification to use deadly force a standard of objective reasonableness. In other words, Stinson said, this means what would a reasonable police officer have done in that situation?

He said it will be up to the grand jury to decide whether or not to bring charges and determine whether the officer perceived a reasonable threat from Young. He said the second officer's perspective may be key to this finding.

Stinson said he doesn't believe the second officer, who stood by Young's door and ordered her to get out of the car, was out of policy. He said it was telling that this officer never pulled out his firearm, implying he didn't perceive a threat.

"We'll see how this unfolds. But I would assume this is a case that would not need a considerable amount of time for charging decisions to be made," he said.

Still, Stinson said research shows grand juries that bring charges are increasingly unlikely to do so, because they don't want to second guess the split second decisions that police officers make in potentially violent street encounters. He said courtroom juries are even less likely to convict these officers that are charged for the same reason.

Stinson cited his own research that shows between 2005 and 2023 there have been 184 non-federal, sworn law enforcement officers who have been arrested for murder or manslaughter resulting from an on-duty shooting throughout the United States. Of those 184 officers, to date only 59 have been convicted of a crime resulting from the on-duty shooting.

In those cases where an officer was convicted, it was often for a lesser offense. Only six were convicted of murder.

Stinson said it will be important for the public to eventually know these officers' names. Right now, those officers' names are being withheld by the police department, citing Marsy's Law.

"The public has a right to know who the police officers are that are engaging in, you know, these types of incidents, that we have a right to look at their record closely. And I think that that will be open to public scrutiny in due course," Stinson said.

Young's funeral is planned for Thursday at The Church of Christ in Linden. Visitation is scheduled for 1 p.m. and the funeral is set to begin at 2 p.m, according to an obituary posted online.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.